Friday, September 28, 2012

Malaysia Day 2012

I didn't go on my usual Merdeka pilgrimage this year. So it seemed fitting that I should head back to that place, that confluence, where Kuala Lumpur was born—where, in some ways, I learnt to live—on Malaysia Day.

And this time I went with a very special friend from Miri, V.

It began at 2.30 a.m. in KL Sentral, where I waited for V:

"I'm doing the atmospheric thing, sitting in a barely-lit café in a nary-lit station, soft rock music playing, steam from my teh-o rising into the void."

And then 'Kite' played—in Burmese! And what serendipity, the exchange with Simon.

I've seen countless photographs of those prayer coils, but never of the photographers who take those pictures. Huang Di temple, Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

Rising over the trees, the flag at Dataran Merdeka, the DBKL building, and the Sultan Abdul Samad building. I've always liked the wildness of KL, and I still imagine a possible future in which we come to terms with our identity as a tropical city and bring back the power of green spaces and mighty trees.

It doesn't help that the row of trees in front of Taman Midah has been cleared. And yet, I still hold out hope.

Betel leaf (sirih) vendor, somewhere near Lebuh Pasar Besar.

Seeing all this bloody meat reminded me of a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, which V told me about. Read it at this link.

You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner [...] It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child's passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway's first stories "In Our Time" went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In "This Side of Paradise" I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

[L]iterature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the "works." You wouldn't be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.


What will we make of the past that secretly crumbles within us while we think we have moved on?

Hanging drink, yet again.

The last leg that evening was unphotographed. But it was a journey, a conversation, I will not forget.

* * *

Postscript—observations on 28 Sept:

KL remains an elusive and perplexing city. Here, just across the river from the Dang Wangi LRT station lies a kampung house.

Beneath the 'stilts', at that ground level of all kampung houses, the residents of the house (presumably) run a gerai/warung.

View of the kampung house from the bridge across the river.

Of all things—coconut trees and bananas in the heart of KL. For this, among other reasons, I've always felt that this city is alive.

While I appreciate some 'upgrades' and changes, like the integration of the numerous train lines (STAR, PUTRA and Monorail), so much of the city is being transformed into the image of the big cities of the North and the West.

KL, as it is, probably has more trees than Osaka—but we don't feel the heat in the Japanese cities because of the climate there. When will our town planners realise that KL can never—must never—become like New York, or London, or Tokyo, or Paris? Let us seek our identity here in this land, designing the city that it may serve her inhabitants and give life to them.

Happy 49th Malaysia Day. We turn 50 next year—what would we be able to say of our country then? The answer lies in every decision we make today.

1 comment:

siedne said...

It's interesting that you mention KL's city planning, as I am currently taking a class on cities in the global south (not geographically, but more in terms of developing countries. KL is included in our study!) KL has a long way to go before it can come close to being comparable to cities in the West or North. NYC? By just comparing the transportation planning of both cities, KL is not even close. Yet I can see that same aspiration for modernity that you observe with the way KL is changing. KL displays typical characteristics of haphazard planning, inefficient politics and unmet needs of the people resulting to slums, which are common in many up and coming cities.

One good take home from this class is that the planners must to look into the needs of the community and engage participatory planning in order for a city to truly grow and be sustainable; do away with flashy architecture and static concrete, we need to focus on the people's needs to make KL's uniqueness truly shine. Semangat rukuntetangga, if you will. How interesting that we learnt this in primary school (Pendidikan Moral!) but gave it up for flashy buildings and superficial achievements, eh?